Parashat Vayeira--Genesis 18:1-22:24
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Questions for young children
• What special things do you do when guests come to eat at your house?
• How do you behave when you're a guest at someone’s house?
• Who is your favorite guest and why?
• Abraham and Sarah lived in the desert. Why would it be important for them to invite guests for a meal?

Questions for older children
• Abraham and Sarah’s guests are not ordinary people—they come with a surprise message from God, but Abraham doesn’t know that when he calls to Sarah to prepare a meal. Do you think people today would invite strangers into their home for a meal? Why? Why not?
• What do Abraham and Sarah prepare for their guests? How long do you think it took in ancient times to make those foods? What were the guests doing while they waited?
• Have you ever had a guest at your home who surprised you with a story or information? Do you remember what you learned?

Questions for teens and adults
• Notice how Abraham speaks to Sarah. The Torah doesn’t record Sarah’s response. If you were Sarah, how would you respond?
• What do you enjoy or not enjoy about having guests at your Shabbat dinner table?
• If you could invite any Biblical figure to come to your Shabbat dinner, who would you invite and why? (If you have high school juniors or seniors at your table, you might inform them that some U.S. college essays feature a question similar to this one on their application forms).

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Invite your family and guests to connect other foods or activities to the parasha.

In this parasha Lot and his family flee Sodom as God rains down sulfurous fire on the city. God’s angels pulled Lot and his family out of the city and told them to flee and not look behind them or stop. Lot’s wife disobeys and is turned to a pillar of salt.

  • Prepare a salty food like pretzels dipped in chocolate or arrange a selection of gourmet salts on the table for tasting with one of your dishes or sprinkled on the hallot.
  • Discuss why you think God didn’t want Lot and his family to turn around as they were fleeing. What do you think about Abraham bargaining with God to save the city of Sodom?
  • How do Lot and his family behave during and after their escape from Sodom? What do you think of their behaviors?
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Guests are coming! This parasha (portion) opens with Abraham spying three strangers outside his tent. He hurries to greet them, tells Sarah to make bread and cake, and then butchers a calf and takes some milk and curds and offers the meal to the guests. After eating, the guests announce that Sarah will bear a child; she laughs and then tries to hide her amusement, but God is not fooled. The parasha continues with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham’s journey to Gerar, the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Ishmael from Abraham’s household, and closes with the dramatic tale of the Binding of Isaac.

Find the food connection…

.וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה, אֶל-שָׂרָה; וַיֹּאמֶר, מַהֲרִי שְׁלֹשׁ סְאִים קֶמַח סֹלֶת--לוּשִׁי, וַעֲשִׂי עֻגוֹת

Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quick. Three measure of choice flour! Knead and make cakes.”
--Genesis 18:6

Cake!
If you have a cake recipe with a story, try baking your own and telling the story. If you’re looking for a quick and delicious cake laden with history, try Tzippora’s.

The Side Dish

You probably have a favorite cake recipe. I had to plead for this one from my Israeli cousin, Tzippora. I met her on my first trip to Israel in 1964 and she plied us with food. I could imagine the table collapsing from the weight of all the dishes. Overfeeding continued with every subsequent trip. Tzippora’s home epitomized hospitality. There was always a warm welcome and an array of food that would put the best Israeli buffets to shame.

Over the years, I’ve learned more about Tzippora, a first cousin to my grandmother. She left her home in Stropkov, Czechoslovakia in 1935 for Palestine to fulfill her Zionist dreams settling in Pardes Hanna not far from Haifa. There she cooked for children orphaned or separated from their parents by the Nazis. You’ll notice this cake recipe has no oil. At times it lacked other ingredients since the English limited food supplies along with aliyah. Tzippora recalibrated the recipe based on available ingredients. She called it “English” cake with bitterness and irony. After 1948 when rationing was imposed in Israel until 1953, Tzippora still managed to bake and ensure Youth Aliyah children had a bite of cake.

She claims this is her best version.

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Two Dashes of Hebrew
The Hebrew word for cake is oogah. The plural is oogot. Cookies are little cakes in Hebrew, oogiyot. The formal welcome for guests in Hebrew is brukhim ha-baim, blessed are those who come. The language itself informs us that guests are not an imposition but a blessing.

A Dash of Halakha
You may already invite guests for Shabbat but in case you don’t know the term in Hebrew for bringing guests into your home, it’s hakhnasat orhim. When considering this parasha, Rashi (in the name of Rabbi Hama bar Hanina) claims that while Abraham is performing the mitzvah of hakhnasat orhim, Abraham's guests are  performing the mitzvah of bikkur holim (visiting the sick) by appearing at his tent following his recent circumcision.

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04-b'reishit-vayeira- English cakeTzippora’s English Cake

Pareve--makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 11/2 c. flour
  • 11/2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ c. dried cherries (or, if you live dangerously, 4 oz. drained Maraschino cherries)
  • ¾ c. whole dates
  • 1 6 oz. package chocolate chips
  • ¾ c. walnut halves
  • ¾ c. whole Brazil nuts

Instructions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together
  2. Pour into a loaf pan lined with foil and well greased.
  3. Bake at 275º 1 and 3/4 hours.
  4. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.

The recipe can easily be doubled to make 2 loaves for lots of guests. The cake is rich so the horizontal slices can be halved.

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